Has anyone ever suggested you ‘calm down’ when you’re angry?
But it’s really hard. You’ve tried ‘just breathe’, but your body chemistry is still in Hulk mode.
We tell our kids to ‘calm down’ too, but they find it just as hard.
Here we’ll look at a practical tool to help us and our children get back into our senses during those high pressure moments.
The Magic of a ‘Sensory Box’
Do you remember those squeezy stress balls that were all the rage in the late 80’s?
This follows the same principle, except we’ll use more senses. These boxes help us and our children genuinely calm down (rather than quietly fume in the corner!).
Because when we’re in stress ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, our body shuts down the brain areas we need to think, plan, calm ourselves and come up with solutions.
Our body doesn’t want us to be logical, flexible or empathetic when we’re fighting that sabre tooth tiger (in order to survive, it didn’t serve us to care about those cute little cubs back at tiger HQ).
These boxes help to fully re-awaken and develop our brains and our children’s brains. They help us get into our senses and the present moment.
(And it’s really hard to be angry when you’re blowing bubbles.)
What you’ll need
Don’t worry about it looking pretty. Grab any old box or a bit of Tupperware. You can do it now!
A small Tupperware box works beautifully for a travel box that you can keep in your bag (this is helpful if you’re out with kids at the supermarket and then he starts stamping on lettuces (happened).
You can have this ready for yourself when you know you might be in a stressful situation (visiting that in-law perhaps).
Or ready for that playdate for your child when it might get a bit much.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Squeezy toys or play dough
- Toys that light up (including mini-torches)
- Toys that spin
- Pencil crayons and paper (he might show how frustrated he is through scribbles, dots or scrunching up the paper, because he struggles to say it in words)
*Don’t have bubbles? You can use washing up liquid and water with a straw, or even a washed dandelion stem (we were amazed by the giant bubble coming out the end of the stalk, which instantly calmed both of us!).
You can also use:
- Funny items (e.g. silly glasses)
- A small model to put together, like Lego
- Fiddle toys (e.g. fiddle cubes)
- Jacob’s ladder
- CD or toy that plays music that your child loves
- Chew toys (you can even get special chewable necklaces)
- Favourite smell (e.g. essential oil or a parent’s perfume on a piece of cloth)
(Photo above: fidget cube – If your child is fidgety, at home or at school, this is something that can help (along with wobble cushions to sit on, which acts a bit like a mini pilates ball!).
Now I’ll be honest I bought a fidget cube for my son and he never used it, but other people swear by them! Each side has something different to fiddle with. )
Just a few items will do, say, up to six.
It helps if your child can choose what they’d like to put in their sensory box.
Because we’re all different and she might have a good instinct for what would calm her. Plus choosing items makes it much more likely that he’ll use it when he’s feeling angry.
It might take some experimentation to see what works.
We had to remove some squeezy toys from our box because they seemed to up the aggression, rather than working to calm.
For added sensory effect, you can even have a calming den with a sensory box and other items. Lots of schools are putting these in place for children rather than having time out spots.
Good for Adults
My son decorated a box for me with a space theme (he knows I’m an uber geek).
My box has saved me on a number of occasions. Inside I have:
– Homemade cards and cute pictures of my kids (you can have photos of any loved ones to remind yourself of the love in the relationship) to remind me of their love when another part of them has taken over!
– A piece of fabric with my favourite essential oil (for me, Rose Geranium)
– Written meditations or supportive prompts (I once wrote myself a meditation, put it in my box and it really did calm me down deeply, taking me through the process of calming down.)
You can also put inside:
– CD/ music that calms you (or notes on songs/ a playlist you can put on YouTube or Spotify)
– Paper or something like a mindfulness colouring book and pencils (either to write down your thoughts or draw)
– A classic stress ball, or any kid of ball to throw and catch (juggling has actually been shown to re-wire the brain and be extremely calming! It can really bring people into the present moment)
– Bubbles (these help adults breathe too – it is so hard to feel stressed when you’re blowing bubbles!)
– Or pictures of fluffy kittens – see you can’t help but smile, right?
Or pop in something that someone made for you or gave you (a child, friend, partner) that makes you feel all gooey.
Anything to change your body chemistry.
Just a few items will do.
Bubbles are top on my list because they help me to focus on breathing without realising it, and those bubbles floating around are calming, or giggle-inducing if we grown ups try to catch them.
And because our basic fight or flight brain never remembers how to calm down, I have prompt cards.
If you have a child, you might find they start bringing your box to you too – hoorah! (Because it’s hard to remember to go to our box in the moment when our brain is in shut down!).
You can also use my free Peace Tree meditation whenever you feel stressed (this has really helped me to get out of some dark and overwhelmed moments!).